Salmon and innovation: a week in Finland

The differences between a welfare state like Finland and a developing country are rather easy to spot once you get out of the airport, if not earlier.

Coming from an “Arab Spring” country, it was not the easiest task to write about Finland. Almost every Finnish person I have met is proud of the welfare state Finns built over the past 100 years. They will proudly tell you that things were not always this easy, before cleverly showing off the innovations they resourcefully came up with during these harsher times.

You see, Finland can easily impress a group of 20 journalists from across the globe.

While such a beautiful country like Finland should or doesn’t normally evoke such dreary thoughts, I could not help but feel bittersweet while experiencing all the grandeur of modern day Helsinki.

I dare not speak on anyone’s behalf nor tie Finland or the Finnish model to the 2011 uprising which ousted former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. The fact is Finland remains a largely obscure country to most Egyptians.

But we Egyptians each wanted a different model for the “new Egypt” after the uprising. Some were hoping for drastic change while others wanted none at all, some wanted a Western style democracy, others sought for a far more conservative, religious-based model.

Sure, we did not want the Finnish model nor even had Finland in mind when we held the uprising but I believe that so much of what we were demanding is right here in Finland where public transportation is punctual and accessible to all, and modernity and nature are not mutually exclusive.  Rather the country is carefully designed to cater to a modern, productive society, while preserving the country’s breathtaking nature.

Finnish landscape
Finnish landscape

Education firm Pearson ranked Finland as the first in education among developed countries in 2012. Finland is fourth in child well being, according to a 2013 UNICEF report and first on the Networked Readiness Index published in a 2013 report by the World Economic Forum and INSEAD. The free street internet was rather enjoyable, I must say.

Yet, with a population of only 5.6 million and all these achievements at hand, the welfare state is relentlessly trying to develop itself and Finns know that they have to put in a lot of hard work to maintain this quality of life. They are diligently preserving and celebrating their history while at the same time investing in ecological sustainability, and cutting edge technology for waste management. One Finnish company produces robots to reduce the amount of waste from construction and demolition work.

Zenrobotics, the first robotic waste sorting system in the world
Zenrobotics, the first robotic waste sorting system in the world

Back in Egypt, the situation has never been more bleak and the chant that echoed across Egypt, “bread, freedom, social justice,” is becoming a distant memory because there have been no real improvements in any of the three aspects of life.

The Finnish model obviously is one that works for the Finnish society. It cannot be adopted in a random developing country because people act, think and behave differently in different parts of the world but one cannot help but wonder, will Egyptians ever have their own version of the Finnish dream or will the country of thousands of years of civilization continue to spiral towards a failed state?

Hend - Egypt

Author: Hend - Egypt

I am always enthusiastic about learning something new, excited to see more of the world and eager to make a difference. I am a journalist in one of the few English-speaking local newspapers. After over a year of being a journalist, I can safely say that I am lucky because Cairo knows how to keep its news interesting! I am Egyptian but I was born and raised in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia and the dynamic Cairo has only been my home for five years, an exciting five years I must say. On the occasions that I do have spare time, I like to read, travel, and discover Cairo's interesting venues and sites with friends.

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